The Robber Baron's Party
Let's Bring Tea
by Thom Hartmann
The Robber Barons are back.
They're staging a celebration of their
power in Washington, DC, where they help write the majority of
legislation and hold captive all but a very few of our nation's
legislators. The television networks they own are showing the
party in all its pomp and ceremony. The newspapers and magazines
they own are telling us what a fine time is being had by all in
Washington, DC. The radio stations, networks, and talk show hosts
they own are reassuring us that they know what is best, that all
will be well, that "freedom is on the march."
Every generation, it is often said, must
relearn the lessons of history. This generation is getting a crash
Shall we have a government of, by, and
for We, the People? Or shall we be governed by a powerful elite
made up of the super-rich, multi-national corporations, and well-paid
shills who do their bidding?
It seems that the shift from FDR's vision
of We the People to Reagan's vision of corporate governance has
only happened in the past thirty years - when Reagan, in his first
inaugural address, declared war on We the People by saying: "Government
is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem."
But it's really a battle that's gone back
to 1762, when Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote "The Social Contract,"
and directly challenged - for the first time in nearly two thousand
years - the idea that people must be governed by a powerful father-figure
King, Pope, or Feudal Lord.
"Man was born free," Rousseau
opened his book with, "and he is everywhere in chains."
Those chains, he suggested, were forged by a belief that people's
inherent nature was weak and evil, and people were incapable of
governing themselves. Rousseau - and, following him, Jefferson,
Madison, Washington, Franklin, and others among our nation's Founders
- rejected the belief that society would disintegrate without
kings, popes, or rule by a rich elite.
But the need for an all-powerful ruling
elite was a notion that was strongly ingrained in the mind of
the Western World at the time of our founding.
Thomas Hobbes, one of history's most eloquent
spokesmen for the Reagan/Bush/Imperial type of worldview, wrote
in his 1651 magnum opus "Leviathan," that without a
strong and iron-fisted ruler, "in every man is enemy to every
"In such condition," Hobbes added, "there is no place for industry,
because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture
of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may
be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of
moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge
of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters;
no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger
of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty,
brutish, and short."
Thus, without a powerful father figure
ruler, Hobbes suggested, "it may be perceived what manner
of life there would be, where there were no common power to fear..."
Liberty, Hobbes believed, was a dangerous
thing. It produced misery.
Liberty, Rousseau asserted, was necessary
for the fulfillment of human potential, and could bring about
a paradise on earth.
The Founders of our nation and Framers
of our Constitution rejected Hobbes and embraced Rousseau. But
how, they asked, to achieve that liberty?
The solution was found in flipping seven
thousand years of history on its head. Instead of people being
ruled in the Hobbesian fashion by kings, popes, or the rich (feudalism/fascism),
they set up a form of government wherein the people themselves
rule, through elected officials answerable solely to the voters.
But even in the day of the Founders, not
The early Federalists largely shared Hobbes'
point of view, as John Adams often pointed out in his letters
to Thomas Jefferson and others. When the Democratic Party became
corrupt during the 1900s, they embraced it. When the reformist
Republican Party - brought to national prominence by Lincoln -
degenerated into the party of the rich and the well-bred after
Lincoln's death, it embraced it. Other than the misgivings of
Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Republicans have held this view ever
since the great split of 1772 when the reformers left the party
over a platform battle and set out to form the populist and progressive
Thus, we see, the real battle here is
between those who believe that free people can govern themselves
- and have the right to keep out powerful interests that would
corrupt government - and those who believe that a powerful father-figure
is necessary for governance, the people should be kept largely
in ignorance, the rich know best, and that We the People will
only behave well when, as Hobbes wrote, there is "a common
power to keep them all in awe."
Today's real battles in Washington, DC,
and in state capitols across the nation are not just about privatizing
Social Security, or turning Medicare into a feeding trough for
the big pharmaceutical and insurance companies.
They're not only about drilling for oil
in the Arctic while refusing to increase fuel efficiency standards
for cars, doing away with the $100,000 tax break for purchasers
of SUVs, or opening millions of acres of wild lands to loggers,
miners, and developers.
They're not even about Bush putting one
of the nation's worst polluters in charge of the Department of
Energy, an insurance-industry mogul in charge of HHS and its Medicare
program, or his appointing the former assistant director of the
Cato Institute's Project on Social Security Privatization as Associate
Commissioner for Retirement Policy at the Social Security Administration.
These are just symptoms.
Today's real battles in the halls of government
are about the survival of democracy itself.
Of course, conservatives aren't going
to say so quite as bluntly. Ronald Reagan had to reassure the
American people that he wasn't going to run us into debt and then
turn our nation over to the multinational corporations. In his
first inaugural, he had to add, "Now, so there will be no
misunderstanding, it is not my intention to do away with government.
It is, rather, to make it work-work with us, not over us; to stand
by our side, not ride on our back."
But who was that "us" Reagan
Clearly it wasn't recipients of what conservatives
call the "socialist" Social Security or Medicaid programs.
It wasn't those of us who are pleased to have the protection of
unionized police and fire departments, public roads, clean air
and water, safe food and drugs. It wasn't the people who had fallen
on hard times as their jobs were shipped overseas and they found
themselves in unemployment lines or needing government assistance
to get back on their feet.
Reagan's "us" - as history clearly
shows - was the feudal/fascist corporate elite. As was George
H. W. Bush's "us." And many of Bill Clinton's DLC's
"us." And, so ostentatiously today, George W. Bush's
As we view today's ostentatious celebration
of the corporate takeover of our government, We the People are
faced with an historic challenge. As Franklin Roosevelt said in
1936, as the result of "new uses of corporations" a
"new royalty" has emerged in America.
"It was natural and perhaps human,"
Roosevelt said, "that the privileged princes of these new
economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control
over Government itself. ... And as a result the average man once
more confronts the problem that faced the Minute Man."
And, as in the days of the Minute Man,
today we find inspiration in the Boston Tea Party-like effort
of Barbara Boxer to challenge the Ohio vote, or her principled
stand, along with John Kerry and Robert Byrd, against the confirmation
of Condoleezza Rice.
The Founder's ideals - although under
siege - are still alive in America.
They live on in the many Americans who
support progressive causes with contributions, send letters to
the editors of their local papers, make calls to talk shows, attend
protest rallies, pamphleteer by email, correspond with their elected
representatives, and support progressive candidates for office.
They live on with those who mourn George
W. Bush's coronation, who turn their back on him and his policies,
who daily work for social justice, equality, and a world at peace.
But democracy will only survive in this
nation if people like you and me continue to stand up, speak out,
and keep bringing tea to the party.
Thom Hartmann is a host of a nationally
syndicated daily progressive talk show. His most recent book is
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